How often have we experienced an episode in our lives that has touched us deeply, and thought, ‘I will never forget this’? But over time, the memory becomes like an old sepia photograph, the finer details foxed and faded. It is especially hard, I think, to recall raw emotions.
And because these incidents are often life-changing, when we review them later, we see them from a different perspective. ‘How I remember it’ is the essence of personal memoir. Yet the insights we gain are greatly increased if we can also recapture our original feelings, recorded in a letter, diary or journal.
I experienced this myself. As I lay in a remote health post in Papua New Guinea suffering acute malaria, it became clear that no one expected me to recover. From the brief scrawl I was able to write, I know that my emotions swung erratically between fear, gratitude for a life lived, and numb acceptance brought on by extreme fatigue. Each day I survived was like a new life.
As we live each moment we seem gripped in a static reality, unable to see beyond our current loss, failure, or success. Encased in our ‘present’, it is easy to overlook that life is a flow of moments ever in transition. The subtle transformations that take place within us, and in the ways that others respond to us, are lost if they are not written down at the time.
Keeping a journal can also be therapeutic. My Papua New Guinea journal grew to 600 pages over the 5 years I worked there. Letters to family and friends excluded events which might worry them, but everything went into my notes. I wrote every day, relieving in the process the anger, joy, and sadness … read more
[Written originally as a guest post for the blog of memoirist Kathy Pooler @KathyPooler ]
If you are thinking of writing a memoir, travelogue, family history, biography, self-help or any narrative non-fiction, you will find a complete guide to planning, researching, writing, publishing and marketing your book in: Writing Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author (Also available as an ebook on all major retail sites).